• LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+

Dissect errors without finger-pointing

Get PDF file

by on
in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

Sheryl SandbergFor years, Sheryl Sandberg handled employees’ mistakes by following standard procedure: Identify the key participants, meet with them and assess to what extent they take responsibility for their error.

While there’s nothing wrong with that strategy, it has its limits. As Sandberg matured as a leader, she discovered a better way to respond to mistakes.

Sandberg is Facebook’s chief operating officer. A few years ago, members of Facebook’s leadership team underwent basic training at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Quantico.

At Quantico, Sandberg gained a valuable insight. After a series of tough physical drills (with officers yelling at her and her colleagues), Sandberg was struck by what happened next: The Marines calmly discussed the exercises, dissected flaws in everyone’s performance and highlighted learning points.

Initially, Sandberg chafed at this structured debriefing process. Her longtime belief as an executive was that “sitting down together to discuss in excruciating detail how and why the mistake was made just seemed like piling on.”

But she grew to admire the Marines’ formal response to blunders. She liked that their goal wasn’t to make people feel even worse about their screw-ups, but to pinpoint lessons learned in a blame-free environment.

She also noted that the Marines record such takeaways in a repository so that everyone can review them—and gain tips to avoid those mistakes in the future.

“The Marines taught me the importance of creating a culture where failure is seen as a learning opportunity,” she says. “When done insensitively, debriefs feel like public flagellation, but when expected and required, they no longer feel personal.”

— Adapted from Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Alfred A. Knopf.

Leave a Comment